1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. Even if you're experiencing good mental health, you may know and support someone who is affected.

Depression is a common mental disorder that affects people of all ages. But some are more susceptible than others. Studies show that those who are less well off, people with long-term illnesses and the unemployed are more likely to have depression than the rest of the population.

So what exactly is depression? All too often people say they're depressed when they are feeling fed up or when things in their lives aren't going as well as they would like. And equally often, after a few days, these feelings disappear.

Medically speaking, depression is when the way you feel starts to make your life more difficult, or when your low mood lasts for more than a few weeks or keeps coming back again and again.

Spot the signs

The thing to remember about recognising depression is that it's not a one-size-fits-all disorder. There are many symptoms, and one person's experience may be completely different from the next.

But if you suspect someone you know is depressed, here are some of the physical signs to look out for:

  • Lack of energy or feeling tired all the time
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Having difficulty sleeping (or sleeping more than usual)
  • Poor appetite, which may lead to weight loss
  • Smoking and/or drinking more than usual, or using drugs
  • Lack of interest in sex
  • Unexplained physical aches and pains
  • Self-harming

Tell-tale emotions

As you may expect, there are also many emotional signs of depression, some of which may seem obvious while others are harder to spot. Among the most common things to look out for are:

  • Feeling sad and in low spirits all the time, and crying a lot
  • Having no interest in anything, not getting any pleasure out of life
  • Feeling anxious all of the time
  • Having difficulty concentrating or remembering things, plus difficulty in making decisions
  • Low self-confidence and self-esteem, withdrawing from family and friends
  • Being more irritable and impatient than usual
  • Feeling helpless and hopeless
  • Feeling guilty, as if everything that goes wrong is their fault

How you can help

If several of the above signs apply to someone you know, they may well be depressed. They also may not have spoken to anybody about their concerns, so try to get them to open up and talk about how they feel – but be careful how you approach the subject. Wading in with statements such as, 'cheer up' or 'pull yourself together' is never going to be helpful.

The best thing you can do, once you have encouraged them to start talking, is to simply listen. And while you may not feel qualified to offer any advice, letting them get everything off their chest and supporting them in any way you can think of could be invaluable.

Meanwhile, if you think it's appropriate, encourage them to see their GP, who could offer them medical treatment or recommend a local support group.

Our mental wellbeing microsite is packed with advice, tips and tools to look after your mental wellbeing and improve your ability to deal with life’s ups and downs. With information such as practical ways to get back on track and common work-related challenges to our mental wellbeing. Discover how small changes can make a big difference.

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